Reversing the Gains?

7
1522
Andrew Wonplo, then Passport Director, was arrested on four counts of passport fraud.

U.S. State Department’s designation of former Liberian Passport Director Wonplo and family casts dark cloud over Liberia’s Human Trafficking Fight

By Joaquin M. Sendolo

With Liberia upgraded to Tier 2 on the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) list early this year, it seemed as though the West African nation was showing impressive improvement in compliance with global policies to combat the crime. But barely a year after Liberia’s passport director, Andrew Wonplo, was nabbed for passport fraud at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the fact that he and his entire family have been publicly banned from entering the United Sates raises new questions about how Liberia will fare in the next evaluation on the US TIP list.

Late last week US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced a public designation titled, “Public Designation of Andrew Wonplo due to involvement in significant corruption.”

Secretary of State Pompeo said:  “In his official capacity at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2018 to 2019, Mr. Wonplo was involved in passport fraud that undermined the rule of law, reduced the Liberian public’s faith in their government’s management of identification and travel documents, and compromised the integrity and security of immigration processes.”

According to a legal expert who does not want to be named, the US decision to chastise Wonplo and his family though a bold step that would have been taken by the Liberian Government to discourage corruption, the unfolding development at the Foreign Ministry, however, does not give certainty to the public about safety as Liberian passports enter in the hands of so many aliens and foreigners to roam the world under the guise of Liberian citizenship.

The legal expert in human rights affairs indicated that as passports are spread across a large segment of foreigners and aliens, it is highly possible that some have already landed in the hands of terrorists and human traffickers.

“In this way, those who have been illegally selling Liberian passports to non-Liberians, for huge amounts of money, it is becoming apparent that they may have been aiding and abetting terrorists and operators of human trafficking rings,” said the expert.

Liberia’s Tier 2 status on the US State Department TIP list indicates that the government has made some efforts including investigations of internal trafficking; allocating a budget to the anti-trafficking task force for the first time since 2014; promulgating a national referral mechanism; and identifying more potential trafficking victims.  

The country’s shortcomings, however, included the government’s failure to sentence convicted traffickers to an adequate prison term, lacking adequate resources for law enforcement officials, and little or no understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes; and limited shelter and services for victims. 

True to form, even Mr. Wonplo himself was prevented from prosecution, first by his being snatched from the hands of court officials before he could see the inside of the courtroom, though he had already been charged. Furthermore, in spite of the glaring amount of evidence against him — blank passports and birth certificates found in his home — the Ministry of Justice under Cllr. Frank Musah Dean showed no interest in prosecuting Wonplo and his Nigerian accomplice.  

Finally, the Government of Liberia under President George Manneh Weah looked the other way as Judge Yamie Gbeisay of Criminal Court C presided over the request of Wonplo’s lawyers to drop all charges against their client when the prosecution would not pursue the matter any further.

Given the handling of Wonplo’s case, the legal luminary observes that the culprits are far bigger than Wonplo himself — “well-placed hidden hands, closest to the seat of power” are more than the crime of passport fraud has the propensity to significantly diminish the gains Liberia has made in the fight against TIP. 

Even though Liberia has not encountered overt terroristic activities in its territorial confines, terrorists have in the past attacked neighboring Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, as well as Mali, where a contingent of Liberian troops are stationed as United Nations peace keepers. These countries have people coming daily entering Liberia through porous borders and the main airports, mostly undetected. 

“Already in our country, we see foreigners entering freely and using different routes; what happens when they possess our passport that gives them the freedom?” said the expert.

“We must also beware that as our passport gets in the hands criminally minded foreigners around the world, our country risks being blacklisted as a hub for terrorist or human trafficking activities,” he added. 

The US Secretary of State’s designation for Wonploe is made under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94).  Under Section 7031(c), once the Secretary of State designates officials of foreign governments for their involvement, directly or indirectly, in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.

“The law also requires the Secretary of State to either publicly or privately designate such officials and their immediate family members.  In addition to Mr. Wonploe, I am announcing the public designation of his spouse, Dennice Wonploe, and their minor children,” the press release said.

 “The Department will continue to use these authorities to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally,” the tough-talking US diplomat stated.

Wonploe was arrested in August last year, and during police investigation, it was discovered that 4,250 pieces of blank Liberian passports were entrusted to the Passport and Bureau of Vital Statistics that was under his supervision as Passport Director.

The court document at the time noted that out of the 4,250 blank passports under the custody of the Passport Department, 4,180 booklets were recorded and issued to applicants (Accounted for), while 70 pieces were reported “damaged.”

“That out of the 70 pieces reportedly damaged, 66 other booklets could be traced, while four of them could not be accounted for,” the court’s document quoted the investigative report.

Besides, the court record claimed that 17 booklets of birth certificates were illegally issued to individuals without any payment to the government.  

In the wake of denial of Wonploe and his family, he has posted on his Facebook page that he would be coming out to speak early this week, but could not state what he intends to say and against whom.  He and his family are so far the only ones bearing the weight of being blacklisted by the US government, as the public leans in to hear what he will have to say.

7 COMMENTS

  1. You have simply been bribed with KATO given by Mr.. Wonplo with this distortion and red herrings, after he Wonplo has seen that his stupidity about litigation against the USG is simply nonsensical, since who enters or stays in a country is absolutely the sovereign decision of the given country, and not any right or anyone, not to talk about a damn criminal who has been only lucky to appear under the gavel of Yamie Gbeisay just as was the case with those CBL THIEVES.

  2. Bai Best, that you or anyone would believe that one has not read the article with understanding because he or she refuses to buy this CHEAP GOSSIP from some so called lawyer hiding under his bed is that which is unfortunate on the part of this reporter and editor who want to also give the wrong impression that this criminal and unpatriotic clown was been pushed into his criminality.

    Well, we have witnessed so much from your so called human rights lawyers like the President of the LNBA Tiawen Gongloe (now the bag man for the thief Benoni Urey).

    Or I can bet my neck it is that other opportunist Kofi Woods all crumbs collectors of Benoni Urey after they had the worst to spew about the benefactor of Benoni Urey, the now jailed war criminal Charles Taylor.

    We saw them etc. in the Kabineh Janeh case, the 90 years poor widow case, the Nwabudike case to not swiftly discern that once you hear some Monrovia so called human rights lawyer hiding in anonymity, one better dont take what is reported objective.

    Finally, let me remind you people about this. For the police or detectives to make a discovery may not be difficult. But to produce the physical evidence is in most cases difficult!

    In that case prosecutors usually will advise the government not to waste further time but dismiss the culprit based on administrative grounds sanctioned by the circumstantial evidence which of course the courts usually do not use to convict.

    But of course, foreign jurisdictions have the right and powers to have their own verdict against the culprit, whether his courts handed down its opinion out of nolle prosequi or other wise.

    Bai, the very fact that you people will publish such as ..He and his family are so far the only ones bearing the weight of being blacklisted by the US government, as the public leans in to hear what he will have to say, debunks the imbalance, inaccuracy, and falsehood,.

    For GOD IN HEAVEN SAKE, WHO THE HELL SHOULD BEAR THE WEIGHT BESIDES HIM AFTER COMMITTING HIS PURPOSEFUL, KNOWING, AND RECKLESS CRIMINAL DEDEBA? HE WONPLO, AND HE WONPLO ALONE! HIS FAMILY HAS HIM AND HIM ALONE TO BLAME!

    • Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha . Going to laugh one more time. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Putting the blame on the wrong people. Not on the regime’s Justice Minister and his Solicitor General Cephus that failed to prosecute the accused under the law of the country. Not even George has called for an answer or explanation why the Executive Branch of his regime has ignored the law to prosecute for a criminal act. Not only that was wrong, but also issuing the criminal minded individual a passport to leave the country with impunity. That’s George and his regime. Now with the support of Mr. True or False Nationalist of the Kru tribe, as a nationalist of that tribe, the calls to install a fearful dictator in the person of George, can explained the reason why the criminal minded individual could not be prosecuted. The dictator says no one should prosecute that criminal, no one will. The dictator says, give the criminal minded individual his passport, no one dares say NO. The criminal minded individual did not escaped prosecution. He made himself available to the Court. But it was the dictator who has yet to get an explanation from the political embarrassment on the nation that gives his approval. He sits right in the Foreign Ministry and pretends not to know about anything. Now, you know why the likes of this tribal nationalist is in agreement to installing George as a dictator. While claiming the criminal minded individual and his family should take the blame for an act approved by the regime not to prosecute. While handling over to the criminal minded individual and his family their passports to travel out of the country. That is what the future dictatorship of the regime has for the country. James Davis putting the blame where it belongs, by calling a spade a spade.

  3. Thanks Bai for this very informative and insightful piece.

    Selling the soul of Liberia for peanuts! Why do people commit these kinds of criminal acts against the interest of their own country? People commit these acts because they see others doing them with impunity.

    When Mr. Wonplo was first indicted and found culpable, government reneged on its obligation to prosecute him for some dubious reasons; thus, this failure gives credence to the fact that the prevalence of corruption, which Liberians are witnessing, stems from the highest echelon of power and that one’s chances of facing the fullest wrath of the law depends on his connection in government or his/her socio-political or socio-economic status.

    Things are what they are in Liberia!!

  4. I see why some do not like to properly identify themselves on social media platform, because when they do and people get to know who they are, they would find it difficult with others. What is about Wonplo that reflects bribes here? But anyway, a person of hidden identity can say anything as such.

  5. Joaquin M. Sendolo, let people hear their ear yah. You are sitting down there USING A GHOST as your source disseminating both genuine lies and verbal lies, and you are here boring people with …But anyway, a person of hidden identity can say anything as such.

    My friend this is inter alia what fundamentally reflects bribes here on your part. Your so called human rights lawyer who you are relaying does not have a name or an address? Oh, sorry, you have implied that he is a ghost, hence as, a person of hidden identity can say anything as such. DEDEBA KATO KING Joaquin M. Sendolo THE GREAT!.

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